and Mexico have a long connection going back many millennia. And one thing
that appears to connect us seems to be our mutual love of chocolate.
years ago, U of U researchers discovered cacao in an ancient pot near Blanding,
Utah. Cacao does not grow in Utah. This indicates that the peoples of what is now
is Utah traded, interacted, maybe enjoyed a cup of Aztec hot chocolate with the
peoples of what is now Mexico and perhaps Central America.
of pottery also create a path of migration from ancient sites in our state to
Paquime, the "Mesa Verde of Mexico," in what is now the state of
Chihuahua, near the Mormon Colonies there. Today local artists in the town of
Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, and Moab, Utah, create pottery that reflects the
traditions of the Ancient Pueblans of our region and those of Paquime.
tradition reflecting this history has become extremely popular in our
state: Day of the Dead, a celebration of
ancestors that grew out of ancient traditions of Mexico then melded with
Catholic All Souls' Day, has been embraced throughout our state as a way to
celebrate our departed family members. What a better holiday for Utahans who
2010, I founded Artes de México en Utah along with local artists who were
inspired by an exhibit of Mexican art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. I had assisted
in a companion exhibit of the works of Pablo O'Higgins, a Utah artist who
became a Mexican muralist. I had seen the delight and pride in the faces of
young Latinos who visited the exhibit. I had raised my daughter, whose father
is Mexican, to be bilingual and bicultural at a time when there was little
available in the community to inspire young Latinos to be proud of their
had no trouble gathering a group of artists and designers who wanted the same, and
with the blessing of the UMFA, we poached some of their staff for our advisory
board! We connected with the Mexican Consulate, and they welcomed our
started off with a bang: an exhibit about Frida Kahlo produced in Mexico, which
was seen by almost 20,000 people at the Salt Lake City Public Library.
next project, also in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate, were
photographs of the Mexican Revolution from the legendary Casasola Archive in
Hidalgo, Mexico. We spread that exhibit across the valley in seven venues and
partnered it with photographs of Mexico today, created by members of the
of students from throughout the county and beyond visited the exhibits and
learned about them from Latino high school students, whom we trained as
Photo by Edgar Gomez, courtesy of the Utah Natural History Museum
each of our exhibits, Latinos shared gratitude that "Utah cares about my
history." Many others expressed their appreciation as to how Latino
cultures enrich our state.
came to see how this deeper history of Utah, its history as part of Mexico, is
something our entire state can be proud of. So two years later, Artes de México
launched a project called New Chapters |
spent a year taking the oral histories of local Mexican artists, curators and
collectors. It culminated in an exhibit at Mestizo Gallery that showcased the
works and lives of artists Veronica Pérez, Ruby Chacón, and Jorge Rojas, dancer/choreographer
Jessica Salazar, and Tina Misrachi Martin, whose father was Diego Rivera's art
to ZAP and our other funders, as well as fabulous community partners, we have
been able to expand our programming to include ongoing free classes in the
community on Mexican art and cultures, the state's only prize for original
literature in Spanish (the Sor Juana Prize), a yearly Mexican film tour, and
many other activities that spread the beauty of Mexican art and cultures
through the community.
feel that embracing the deeper history of Utah, including our Native American
history and our history as part of New Spain and Mexico, honors the
contributions not only of people who originated in Utah, but of all people who
have found their way to our state.
of the most humbling experiences I have had was when Artes taught a class about
Mexican art and history at Horizonte school to more than 70 students, most of
whom were refugees or immigrants from outside of Latin America. After eight classes
learning about Mexico, the students shared their "take away" message
from the class: That here in the U.S. we can overcome the challenges of racism
and discrimination and create a just society that respects people's religions,
values and cultures.
class, we realized, was not just about Mexico but about a story that is common
to all those who make up our history: those who lived off the land in ancient
times before there were borders, those who arrived on foot in 1847, when Utah
was Mexico, and those who have come here in recent times, also in search of a
better life: It is the story of Perseverance.
Ruby Chacon, Perseverance
Vogel is the co-founder of Artes de México in Utah and a member of its Advisory
Board. She is author of Pablo O'Higgins:
How an Anglo-American from Utah Became a Mexican Muralist (Pince-Nez Press,